The Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing for Online Stores

Email marketing is nothing new—it’s been around for decades. While newer marketing channels are always popping (SMS, TikTok, etc.), there’s a reason why email has stood the test of time:

Because it works.

Plus, while Facebook and Google ads get more and more expensive, email marketing costs remain relatively unchanged.

Of course, email marketing tactics and strategies have changed a tremendous amount. Gone are the days of effective spam or batch and blast messages. Current strategies focus much more on personalization.

In this guide, we cover the ins and outs of email marketing. So whether you are new to marketing or working on your next big campaign, we’ll show you how to make the most of every message.

What is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is the practice of sending emails to subscribers to promote, educate, entertain or nurture.

In general, there are three major types of email marketing messages: transactional, promotional and automated lifecycle emails. We’ll explain those in more detail later on.

Why Email Marketing is Essential for Online Stores

Let’s face it: the majority of website visitors never return. They stumble upon your homepage, maybe check out a few products, and exit your site without making a purchase.

But, if you capture their email address, you have a chance of convincing them to come back to your store. On the other hand, if you don’t practice email marketing, you’re only chance of reconnecting with a customer is through paid remarketing ads.

Here are some key reasons why email marketing is essential for online stores.

1. It’s An Owned Channel

Unlike social media, email is what is called an “owned” channel, meaning the sender has complete control over the content and distribution. Owned channels have an advantage over earned or paid channels because you are not at the whims of advertisers or third-party platforms.

For example, let’s say your brand is completely dependent on Instagram ads to grow your business (this is more common than you think). One day, Instagram decides to ban your account for some unknown reason (once again, this is more common than you think). All of a sudden you have absolutely no way to connect with customers and your business fails (more common than you think).

2. Email Allows You To Build Stronger Relationships

Social media and SEO are great for acquiring new customers but email and SMS are the best ways to nurture customers into loyal followers. Since it’s an owned channel, you control the narrative and can connect with specific customers at specific time points. No other channel gives you this power.

3. Email Marketing Can Be Automated

Running a business is a lot of work. Thankfully, many transactional and lifecycle emails can be automated, saving marketers and business owners countless hours. For example, you can set up a welcome series that sends three emails and two text messages to every new customer. Imagine if you had to do that manually?!

4. Low Risk, High Reward

Email marketing is often credited as being the number one marketing channel when it comes to ROI.

Abandoned cart emails increase conversions. Post-purchase journeys increase purchase frequency. Upsell campaigns increase average order value.

What do you get when you combine those three things? Skyrocketing customer lifetime value.

Let’s say you pay $100 a month for an email marketing platform and your average order value is $50. With those numbers, your abandoned cart reminder only has to convert two customers to pay for itself.

Factor in all of the other email journeys that nurture and convert subscribers and we talking about an average ROI of 42:1. Good luck achieving those numbers with social media ads.

How to Start Email Marketing

Getting started with email marketing is probably easier than you think. In fact, you could start right now and set up an abandoned cart email in less than 30 minutes.

1. Pick An Email Service Provider

The first step is to pick an email service provider. Of course, we are partial to our own product: Elemental. When choosing an ESP, here are a few things to consider:

  • Does it integrate with your online store?
  • Does it offer SMS?
  • Can you quickly set up automated journeys?
  • Can you conduct A/B tests?
  • Does the pricing structure match your needs?

If you’re not sure what email service provider is right for you, we invite you to schedule a demo with our team so we can show you why online store owners trust Elemental.

2. Build a Subscriber List

If you don’t have an existing subscriber list, you’re going to need to start collecting email addresses. Here are some simple ways to get started (from easiest to hardest):

  • Collected consent at checkout.
  • Add forms and popups to your website.
  • Collect emails at in-person events.
  • Host a promotion or giveaway.
  • Start a loyalty program.

3. Comply with Email Marketing Laws

Email marketing is regulated by different laws in different countries (and even different states). There are large fines per message if you don’t comply. Here are some of the major rules to pay attention to:

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice.

Types of Email Marketing Messages

We mentioned earlier that email marketing messages could be divided into three categories: transnational, promotional, and lifecycle.


A transactional message is directly connected to a recent purchase.

Transactional messages are sometimes overlooked by marketing departments, which is a huge missed opportunity. Open rates and click rates on transactional messages are higher than every other type of messages (sometimes higher than 40%). 

Since open rates are so high, online stores should make sure to optimize every single message. That means they should provide all the relevant information related to an order. You can also try to cross-sell related products.

Transactional messages include:

  • Order confirmation
  • Shipping confirmation
  • Delivery confirmation
  • Review request


Promotional messages are not directly connected to a recent purchase. Instead, they are encouraging a purchase.

These types of messages include:

  • Sale announcements
  • New product announcements.
  • Discount codes
  • Newsletters


Lifecycle messages are often “triggered” by an action, meaning they are sent when a subscriber takes a specific action.

These types of messages include:

  • Welcome series
  • Abandoned cart reminders
  • Browse abandonment reminders

What NOT To Do (And What To Do Instead)

Like we said in the introduction, email marketing has been around for a long time. In the early days of email marketing, it was relatively easy to send out a bunch of emails and get high open rates and click-through rates. 

Well, those days are gone.

Email marketing has evolved and become more sophisticated as users become more wary of digital marketing. Let’s talk about what NOT to do with email marketing and what you should do instead.

Don’t Do This: Batch and Blast

Batch and blast is when you send the same email blast to every subscriber on your list. While there might be select times when this is appropriate, you should avoid a batch and blast approach. 

When you send a batch and blast email, you are treating your customers like a number on a list an not an actually person. This can hurt your relationships and even hurt your email reputation, which can lead to getting marked as SPAM.

Do This Instead: Segmentation

Every customer is different, so your emails shouldn’t all be the same. While it is near-impossible to send personalized emails to thousands of people, you can get much closer with segmentation. Segmentation is the process of separating your subsicrbers into groups so you can send more targeted messages. 

For example, you could have a segment dedicated to new subscribers and a segment dedicated to previous purchasers. It’s easy to imagine how the message should differ between these two groups.

Don’t Do This: Spam

Spam emails are unsolicited messages sent out in bulk to people who never signed up for the email in the first place. We shouldn’t have to explain why this is bad, but we will mention that besides sending spam being illegal, it also hurts your brand in more ways than you can think.

Do This Instead: Request Permission

You should only send emails to people who have signed up to receive them. That means all of your subscribers should have registered with your brand using a form. We’re not in the business of providing legal advice, so please refer to opt-in laws in your area.

Don’t Do This: Rely on Open Rates

Open rates isn’t the golden KPI of email marketing like it was 10+ years ago. Times have changed and smart email marketers are now looking towards other metrics to measure the success of their campaigns.

There are two main reasons why marketers shouldn’t rely on open rates. First, they aren’t as accurate as they once were. Thanks, in part, to updates from companies like Apple, ESPs can no longer provide accurate measurements of email open rates. Secondly, high open rates don’t necessarily mean to high conversion rates. And for online stores, conversions are much more import than email opens.

Do This Instead: Set New KPIs

Every business is different, so we won’t pretend to have the perfect answer for everyone. But, in general, metrics like click rates, conversion rates, and even customer lifetime value are much better at measuring email marketing performance.

Don’t Do This: Do Everything Manually

We are always surprised when we talk to ecomm store owners who don’t know about email marketing automations and choose, instead, to do everything manually. We’ve talked to store owners who write out custom thank you notes to every single purchase. While this is incredible and thoughtful, it certainly isn’t scalable. 

Do This Instead: Automate When Possible

Marketing is a lot of work. Make things easier on yourself by setting up email marketing automations whenever possible.

Here is a super high-level guide to email marketing automations for online stores:

  • Connect your ESP and your store so they can communicate with each other.
  • Set up “triggers.” A trigger is an event that leads to an action. In this case, the action is sending an email.
  • Create your emails. For each trigger, you’ll need at least one email message. One important thing to remember is that these will be sent out forever until you change them, so make sure the content is evergreen.
  • Test your trigger and email to make sure everything works as expected.
  • Optimize. Once everything is set up doesn’t mean the work is over. Now is the time to set up A/B tests to optimize your triggers and emails.

Here are a few basic automated journeys that every ecommerce store can use:

  • Welcome series
  • Abandoned cart
  • Browse abandonment
  • Post-purchase journey
    • Thank you for your purchase
    • Item shipped
    • Item delivered
    • Review request
    • Cross-sell
  • Customer Winback